fish backs and cheeks

High rollas... movers, shakers.  Move over old skool.
I don’t know what’s going on, but Taiwan is starting to piss me off. No, not Taiwan – but the headaches that I get every damn morning on this trip. I think I can attribute it to the fact that the hotel (and all public places really) allow smoking. My floor on the hotel, and my room, smell like cigarette smoke – and sleeping each night in there is really wreaking havoc on my sinuses. I wake up each morning with a killer headache that takes hours to shake, and I’m nearly out of Excedrin. I didn’t have this problem on the last trip, so I don’t know what’s going on. Maybe it’s a combo of the jet lag and smoke, or something. But ugh, it’s really putting a damper on my daily activities. Coming from California, where public smoking is all but outlawed – I don’t think my sinuses are used to it anymore. So, as long as I’m complaining, I didn’t get enough sleep last night – and woke up this morning not feeling right in the belly. Now I’m sitting here with a pounding headache and sleepy brain, whatever. I actually feel like I could be getting sick… makes me wanna check the symptoms of bird flu. I mean, the chicken-heads, y’know…

Again today was a fun day for food. I’m getting pretty used to eating animals while they stare up at me from the plate. In America I guess we don’t like to see the animal “form” of the meat we’re eating: our chicken is in breasts, wings, and thighs; our fish is in fillets and breaded sticks; and in general the food we eat doesn’t look like the animals we killed to get it. Here it’s totally different. When you eat some meat (seafood or turffood) it looks like it was just walking along and fell into the deep-fry or oven before getting to your plate. At first it’s a jump to just bite into the back of a whole fish, but after you realize that the taste is the same it gets easier. I was seriously crunching down on some fish backs and cheeks today, because really… who cares if it still looks like a fish or chicken, either way I’m eating dead flesh. They keep telling me I’m unusual in that aspect, and that most white-boys are squeamish about horking down some crazy whole-animals. Whatever, I think I’m just a practiced eater – bones, skin, and faces fear me – not the other way around. If it don’t taste like poo, I’ll eat it up. And even if it does taste like poo, I’ll try it once to find out.

While presenting to the fellas here in Taiwan, it’s very evident that the society (and even corporate society) is very much hierarchal. There may be twenty to thirty bodies in a room for a presentation, but only one or two individuals will speak for the group. Even if you question the directly, only the highest seniority folks reply. It makes it kind of hard to solicit feedback about some things, since some folks won’t even speculate on things which they may be familiar with – all because there is a more senior person in the room and it would be usurping their authority to answer. So you’ve got thirty people, twenty-eight mutes and two who can speak at will. I know a lot of it has to do with the language barrier, but it also helps to break out into a separate room with certain lower-level but knowledgeable folks so they don’t feel like they’re doing anyone some dishonor by directly answering questions. See, you just got a lesson in marketing to Taiwanese companies – take note.

Tonight I finally met up with Ben again, our schedules have been off just enough to miss hanging out each night. We met down at the bar for beer and cigars, nice Cubans – no trade embargoes here. We marveled at our luck, two young jet-setting yuppies having drinks and cigars in a swanky bar while a string quartet plays in the background and people that don’t we don’t understand bring us nuts to eat. Hells yeah, international playboys… or something. The week is going by incredibly fast, and there’s still no word on a possible extended trip to Shanghai – but I’m doubtful since I’d need a visa and haven’t got one yet. Who knows.

OK, I’m done for the night. Gonna watch the rest of this crazy fake “Tales of the Crypt”-ish movie on Cinemax and hit the sack. Dude, I just found the webpage that shows what this horrid Asian Cinemax lineup is like, check it out. Dave outta here.

the smell is stuck in my mouth

Well-fed white-boy.
Today was another interesting day in Taiwan. I suppose it goes without saying that I have some “shit I ate” updates. Well, I tried frog legs for the first time – and yeah, they totally taste like chicken. Chinese cuisine is very good, but also very odd to a westerner in some aspects. At lunch today, one of the courses consisted of half a papaya, which had been partly hollowed out, stuffed with mushrooms, topped with cheese, and baked. It may sound crazy, but it tasted great. Who would have known that papaya, mushrooms, and cheese could taste so good together. We also had some cold salad that I, at first, thought was comprised of tiny vegetables – but upon closer inspection realized was actually a bunch little dried fish. Kinda like tiny anchovies or something, heads and all. But man, I ate those little things up – they were awesome tasting. Funny that even the pizzas delivered from Pizza Hut come with shrimp and squid toppings.

There’s plenty of “normal” western food here, but I love trying the local fare. More often than not it’s awesome. The only thing I’ve found that I don’t really like are the broth-based soups which they tend to serve with a meal. Basically they simmer a whole bunch of different seafood in water, and then only serve the broth – sometimes with a couple sprigs of grass on top. So essentially what you’re eating is warm fish-water. I decidedly don’t dig this. Let’s see, I also tried something called “mantis prawns,” some kind of fierce piranha-looking fish, and even what the Taiwanese call “stinky ‘toh.'” Stinky “toh” is what they call stinky tofu (I took some spelling license on the word “toh” and just wrote it like it sounds). Oh man, they told me about stinky toh last time I was here, when while wandering through the night market I asked: “What is that stinky smell!?” Turns out it’s just really old tofu that’s either fried or boiled. I thought maybe it only smelled bad, but it really tastes like it smells – stinky. It’s like the smell is stuck in my mouth and I can’t get it out. Ugh.

Looks scary, but was mad tasty.

Mmmm…. fried chicken heads.

During lunch they serve several different kinds of tea, and they usually bring out ornate little teapots and cups for each person. You also get a dish of warm tea to rinse your fingers in after a pungent seafood meal that is eaten with the hands. Today, I was checking out the little teapot that the after-meal green tea was served in. One of the Chinese-speakers with us explained that the characters on the pot were the names of the “four most beautiful Chinese women.” Once he saw that I was interested, he explained more – with all the other native Taiwanese in the room helping to explain. Seems that in school, as part of history, they are taught about the four most beautiful Chinese women. They can all name each woman. It’s hearing about and reading about things like this that fascinate me when I’m here. Even the news is so much different, there are stories about how certain political candidates will probably not get elected because it’s not a compatible year for them, or the particular god of something is unhappy with them. Fortune tellers are everywhere and much stock is placed in what Americans would call superstition and hocus-pocus.

Boss-man asked me today if I’d be willing to extend my trip for a few days and head to Shanghai after leaving Taiwan. While I wouldn’t mind, and I do really want to see Shanghai – I miss home and mostly Sharaun. Also I think we have a show (Notwist) shortly after I was supposed to return this week which an extension may cause me to miss. Anyway, it’s all subject to management approval – so there’s no reason to worry too much at this point I suppose. If I go I go.

I’ve been picking up more and more bits of Mandarin. I can do some rough counting now, mostly “shopping” math and bargaining. I can count to ten which is pretty much all I need to recognize most numbers. I can recognize certain phrases like “no problem,” and “that one,” “over there,” etc. I’m also pretty decent at piecing together a conversation from tone or a word or two I understand. It’s a really cool language, and I think I’d really like to learn to speak it. Man would it be a great skill to have for work, not only something fun to learn. If I could be around it as much as I am daily here, I think I could pick up on basic conversational speech fairly quick.

OK I am totally dead tired, as it’s midnight here and 8am my time US. Dave out.

congealed lamb patties

Knee how.  Shea shea.
I didn’t blog on Thursday because I upgraded my blog software and broke the formatting, I didn’t blog Friday because I was in the air headed to Taiwan. Well, now I’m in Taiwan and I downgraded the blog software and got my formatting back – so I have no excuses.

It’s hard to imagine a place as technologically advanced as Taipei, but still so busted. These guys design and manufacture some of the world’s leading-edge stuff, but they live in places that Americans would condemn as un-livable. Maybe they just don’t place much stock in “aesthetics,” ’cause this place definitely looks broke-down. There is so much artistic talent here, evident in the ornate temples and some buildings – but the majority looks like a slum (at least as seen through my land-of-milk-and-honey American eyes). Without dogging it too much, it’s a lot like any other big city. There’s a lot to manage, and I guess a lot falls by the wayside. Some places look great, others don’t. They do have a great subway system, and the tallest building in the world – so it ain’t all bad.

I’ve had a blast since being here. Some guy almost passed out on me on the flight over. About 2hrs out of Tokyo he decided he was gonna have a “medical emergency.” Without going into the whole story, we ended up making a really rapid descent into the airport with a prioritized landing and taxi – at which point paramedics boarded the plane and took the sick dude away. Paramedics and authorities in Japan remind me of Lego-people, blocky and rigid with bright primary-colored outfits. Anyway, it kinda spiced up the 15hr flight, which was, this time, much worse than what I remember from my last trip. Got in late, slept the best I could being 16 hours out of sync, and spent Sunday shopping and sight-seeing in the rain.

As always, the food has been interesting. On Sunday, Ben was keeping a photo-journal of all the meals we ate (I think it was Pat’s idea). So far I’ve eaten jellyfish, congealed lamb patties, shark-fin soup, some kind of orange “organ” served inside a scallop shell, and a barely-dead lobster. And actually, all of it was really good. The shark-fin soup surprised me, because I’ve always thought it would be disgusting – but it was actually quite good. They make the broth with other fish and crab meat, but the fin is the main attraction – kinda funny since I thought it was the least tasty part of the dish. We had the lobster at a teppin place where they cook in front of you. They brought out some whole lobsters which had been recently cut in half lengthwise. When the chef put them on the grill they were still moving. He cooked them very briefly and then served them up, orange-gook (which I think is brains and stuff) and all. The jellyfish, while a tad rubbery, was really awesome – I think it was pickled. They served it cold on a salad. If you’re not a seafood person, Taiwan is not for you. I mean, it’s an island, so it’s to be expected I suppose. Almost everything at least features seafood, there’s fish on the salad, there’s fish in the pasta, and even non-fishy things are often flavored with fish sauce. They also eat a lot more fruit than we do. There’s fresh fruit with every meal, either as a dessert or as garnish. I like that.

I haven’t had a lot of hotel-room time, but while I’m here I mostly surf the net and watch the Cartoon Network, since it’s in English and all. Cinemax is also in English, but the movies they play are super ghetto. Not just old, but like made-for-TV movies from the 80’s that just plain stink. I’m not sure if American stuff takes a long time to get here or what, but the driver that picked us up from the airport was playing a Lionel Richie CD that I think came out when I was five? you know, the one where Lionel all of the sudden got an accent and sang “Fiesta” or whatever. Yeah, try listening to that after 24hrs of travel, ugh. I never really realized how many singles old Lionel actually had from that album, musta been a breakthrough for him. If Germans love David Hasselhoff, then Taiwanese love Deep Purple. For real, two separate people at the customer site today asked me if I saw Deep Purple when they played in San Fran recently. Nope, missed it.

I wish I knew how to speak Mandarin, it sounds like such a cool language. I’m limited to “thank you,” “how much?,” and “restroom?” though. Oh, and “beer,” I can ask for beer. The people here have a lot of history, and a lot of beliefs that seem strange to a white boy like me. Just simple things like the thought that modeling buildings after turtles will make them more earthquake-proof, because turtles (and apparently buildings that look like them) have long lives. Like the rows and rows of fortune tellers who employ all sorts of different methods to make readings, from scattering rice to reading palms. But really, it’s no more silly than the customs of other people I guess – just more pronounced when you’re thrown into it all.

OK, I’m out for now. I’ve taken a bunch of great pictures since getting here – and I’ll try and upload some tonight if I get the chance. Until then, Dave is out.